Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Heart of Hearts

You know by now that, essentially, I take the same vacation every summer. Same location, same time, same people give or take a few. And every year we do the same things. Go to the same beach, uphold the same traditions (foods, activities, birthday parties and the all-ages talent show), camp on the same sites (if we're lucky). But every year also has its unique elements, and there were quite a few this year that really hit the mark and made it my favorite year ever on the island.

One not-insignificant one was the weather. This was by far the most ludicrously beautiful stretch of hot, sunny days and clear nights that I can remember. Aside from a rainy set-up (which we missed by delaying our arrival by a day, oh shucks) and a downpouring final evening (fitting, somehow), one gorgeous beach day morphed into the next, only one campfire was cut short by a nighttime rain that was already dried up by the next morning. It was a treat. Now our crew is made up of veteran campers, and we make the best of it no matter what. Some of my most memorable times on the island come from the solidarity and creative solutions necessary to amuse oneself in the rain when shelter consists of a plastic sheet over one's head, if that. We've had weeks with days and days of unending rain and we still had fun, because we're fun, and we're together. Also: alcohol, for those who can drink it, helps. But it's certainly easier and more comfortable when the weather is dry, and it's nice to have the option to go anywhere without getting wet. So hooray for our lucky streak in 2012. May we see another in my lifetime. Wow, I just talked about the weather for a whole paragraph - clearly the post was totally worth the wait.

Another big happy factor was the company assembled. When I say this, I don't mean that the quality of the company was any better or worse than previous years - I love my family always, forever and unequivocally and I also like them. Maybe I've mentioned this before? It's just that every year brings something incredible, there are new ways to know people you've always known, and a chance to know literally brand new people like my cousin's infant (who was there the entire two weeks, bless them). The trio of kids we used to call the "tweeners"--who Mike has known their entire lives--are off to college (or to another continent) in the next couple of weeks. That was most striking to me, I think - that I was an adult for all intents and purposes when these guys came along and now they're adults. Life, holy cats. I feel like I hardly saw my grandmother this year, who is 90. 90! and camping! (in a cabin, but still). And that makes me a bit sad and lends to thoughts I don't want to have, like, I hope she will be there next year. But again, life. You just never know.

Hanging out so closely with a huge extended family, for any amount of time, presents its challenges. For those not born to it, we can be terrifying in our very numbers, let alone our tribal nature. And though as a crew we tend to embrace and collect people, whoever is pulled into our orbit, we can also be a tough crowd. I openly acknowledge it. I'm not trying to paint the picture of total constant sunshine happyface fiction family. We're real dudes, and sometimes real dudes get heavy. But even with the rough parts, it's never not been worth it to me, or as far as I know, anyone else, to go back again and again. We're not so much bound by our blood but by our hearts, the way we've taken to each other's hearts. Family is everything to us of course, but family--who is family and how you get to be family--means a lot of different things. I could go into that, but I won't.

What I do want to talk about in particular is what it's like to grow up as one of us, and this is only from my perspective, but I think my siblings and cousins wouldn't tell you much different. I'll start by giving an example: HR is the only kid of his age right now. There are two babies younger than him, but the closest older kid is 9 now, so he certainly gets the lion's share of attention. One day (ok fine, most days) on the beach, he was able to convince every adult in our crew to sing "Old MacDonald" while he sang along and clapped and basked in the glow of being the kid in the spotlight. He just drank it up, and I was thinking, "I probably should do something to make sure he doesn't get used to this." But then I thought about it more, and I realized that even when there were age-group-mates (we tend to reproduce in clusters, a la the aforementioned tweeners), every kid in our ranks has been afforded the same unhesitating indulgence. It's not spoiling, it's different. Just focused, loving care. Effortless and second nature. So far I think the lot of us managed to avoid growing up into self-centered assholes, I feel like we could intuit somehow that the love was just love, that it was our birthright in the best way possible, but it wasn't to be taken as unconditional permission or entitlement to do act whatever way we wanted. It's contagious maybe, or inherited, the distinction. I credit the ones who raised us for pulling it off, and if I can even halfway emulate them in my parenting, I feel like I have nothing to worry about.

To know this is to know why I even wanted to have kids at all in this messed up world: every one in my generation and the ones below me grew up sure with every beat that we were loved, that we'd always be cherished and taken care of. It's the only way we've ever known, and I take it for granted the way I take my breath. As long as I'm alive, it's there. And I know it's a rare and priceless gift.  And in a way, our destination summer after summer is a metaphor, a manifestation of this. Seeing the rabid passion we all have for this place, it's telling about who we are. When we're together in such a pointed way, it reinforces itself. And yeah it's about the most naturally beautiful place I can imagine, but beyond that, it represents safety and love and peace of mind. Or maybe that's what makes it so beautiful? I'm getting way beyond myself here. All happy families are alike. Boring. I'll take it and I wouldn't trade it for the island itself.

Anyway, all that sort of feeds into the biggest and best part of the vacation for me, and that is one Mr. HR. I'm going to come right out and say it, the past two years he was kind of a drag. The first year he was so new and I was so shell-shocked we could have been anywhere and I wouldn't have even registered what was going on (again, kudos to M and J and their little one for being super troopers). Last year was fun, but he was extremely clingy and high maintenance and it didn't feel like much of a vacation for me. This year, it all came together. Kids are always work, it's part of the deal. I happily accept it. But this year the boy started doing his share in being so much fun. He adapted jaw-droppingly well from the first, sleeping beautifully, playing happily, going crazy for the beach. I could tell he was having the best time, and it just filled up my soul, knowing this is where the memories start accumulating for him. We've been home for days and he still talks about the frog pond and the "ridiculous hill" and all his little girlfriends. He bonded with his aunts and uncles and my aunts and uncles and cousins, and it means so much to me that he has the chance to know them this way. He reveled in getting dirty and looking for snails and spotting wild turkeys and deer. And Mike and I got to have some truly good times hanging out with everyone and playing games - I even read a whole book! It was as close to perfect as it gets, taking into account the skunks that terrorized us every night and the utter lack of privacy.

We're all home and re-settled. Again the boy's adapted with relative ease (even sleep-wise-- knock wood). Must be that growing up thing I've heard about. I'm in a better mental place, work-wise, which I credit to the long break. And though I miss my people and our rituals and the beauty of the ocean, two weeks is enough. But damn weren't they wonderful weeks.

I don't know how to end this messy love letter to the HI Crew, so I just will. And here's a song, for good measure. 

No comments:

Post a Comment